The sound of the piano filled hours. Time she could’ve spent with him.

Her mouth, a slash of red, now the waxy pallor of her face.

He takes too long.


“That’s her”.

He imagines placing a single white lily where it happened.

It’s the thought that counts.



In a Wellington Park

She stands with feet wide, knees deeply bent.  Her ageless face framed by straight black hair. She is in constant, deliberate motion.

The sweep of the arm.
The scoop of the hand.

Her eyes focus on the middle distance.  She takes a slow, deliberate step to the left. Toes up, heel down. The shift of her weight, from foot to foot, is smooth. Effortless.

The sweep of the arm.
The scoop of the hand.

The thin autumn sun is bright in a pale blue sky.  The Wellington wind swoops between the buildings and across the park. Her silk clothing ripples.

The sweep of the arm.
The scoop of the hand.

I stop to watch. My breathing slows. My gaze softens. For a moment,  we are connected. I feel the power of being calm and controlled.

My cell phone beeps. In reflex, my gaze drops to my palm.  The moment is gone.


Running Away From Home

My younger brother and I had been waiting for my mother to get home. The post office phoned that morning to say that there was a parcel from my Aunt, a woman who we had never met. Those parcels were a magical offering from an angel. We never knew when they would arrive. The South African postal system regularly swallowed post only to regurgitate it months later. The parcels usually contained books and educational toys, sometimes a magazine subscription or sweets, all from exotic places like Arizona and New York.

When our Dad told us there was a parcel for us, we thundered through the house in excitement, back and forth with our three dogs until he shouted “Get outside with that racket.”  

We spent the next few hours poking sticks into the hills of dirt which kept appearing in the lawn, trying to skewer the mole causing them. We chased feral cats and rode our bikes around and around the house. We stood under the mulberry bush, our feet turning purple with dropped berries. I would whisper “I wonder what she sent us?” and the fizz of excitement would set us off again.

By the time Mom’s car came up our long driveway, we had worked ourselves into a frothing frenzy of excitement. We leaped at her as she tried to climb out of the car.


“We’ll go tomorrow.” She didn’t even smile.

“No. Now!” I stomped my foot. “It’s from Aunty Jenny, Ma!”

“You’ve waited this long. Another day isn’t going to hurt you.” she said, annoyance hissing through her teeth. The post office was a reasonable drive from home so maybe the petrol wasn’t going to last until the next pay day with that extra trip. Maybe she had held a premature baby as it took its last breaths and she needed to process it. Regardless, she was not about to bundle us up and go to the post office.

We decided to do what any children would do when they’ve been outrageously treated.  

We ran away.

We put some biscuits in our pockets and my brother tied up his favourite matchbox cars in a hanky he stole from Dad’s drawer. We didn’t bother with extra clothes and since our bare feet had been toughened by hours of play outside, it never occurred to us to take shoes.  We threw some food into the dogs bowls to distract them and gave them a quick pat goodbye.  

It was a long way to the end of our driveway, where we sat at the edge of the dirt road, getting bathed in dust from passing cars. We waited there, sure our mother would appear, after realising her mistake, and take us to the shops.

Our fury turned to boredom.

“We could go back home along the path. That’d show her.” my brother said, in an additional burst of defiance.

We’d been forbidden from walking the path. Neither of us could remember why. We decided it was because adults are mean. I know now, it was because snakes hide in the long grass. The path ran diagonally from the corner of our twelve and a half acres, where we sat, to the opposite corner, cutting the land into two even triangles. Three-quarters of the way along, there was another path which joined it and led past the water pump and back to our house. There was a compound of corrugated iron shacks in the corner of the land, where a few African families lived. Their children were occasional playmates and we knew the adults by sight. It was their path home.

We meandered back to our house along the well-worn strip. The swishing African grass was longer than we were tall and the sky a brilliant blue. My brother found handfuls of coins on the path. We agreed to buy chewing gum and matches the next time we were at the shops with Dad. Chewing gum, because it was banned by Mom. Matches, because my brother was a pyromaniac from the moment he mastered the dexterity to light a match.

“We ran away from home.” My brother announced as we walked into the living room. “But we’re back, now.”

They hadn’t noticed we were gone.

The next day, my mother picked up the parcel on her way home from work. I’m sure the gifts were as wonderful as we had hoped, but I don’t recall what they were. The real gift was from my mother; a lesson in patience and a childhood adventure I’ll never forget.

We also got a huge box of chewing gum.

Where Connection Thrives

“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.” Anne Shirley

– Anne of Green Gables, LM Montgomery

My teenage self was an awkward chameleon. By blending into different social circles, I played with who I might be. I went to live music shows with those who did drugs and skipped school. I went to sleepovers with the rich kids whose homes had games rooms and vast liquor cabinets. I studied with the nerds and organised social functions with the popular kids. I had friends whose families still did home baking on the weekends. I had friends whose parents beat them.

I found having a diverse social circle suited me although pretending to be someone else, didn’t. I shed my chameleon skin and instead took to the world with the idea that everyone has a story to tell. And, like Anne Shirley, found the world full of kindred spirits.

Shona is one of them. Our lives intersected four years ago when I began a working at the high school where she was the caretaker. She captured my attention with her striking look; mohawk, heavy jewellery and copious art embedded in her skin. 

I have also always loved a person who can drop a good f-bomb in polite company.

Shona was recently given three small photographs by a family member. They are the only photographs she has of herself as a child. We found it hilarious that, as toddlers, we both had ruler straight haircuts and clothing that showed off chubby knees. We talked about other similarities like having siblings to torment and both parents in the house.  

As adults, Shona and I are like chalk and cheese, physically and in our experiences. While I had been marrying, divorcing and raising children, she had been battling her demons with dark coping strategies that included drugs.  

Had I judged Shona on first meeting her, I would have missed the deep kindness in her eyes. If I had been scared away by the tattoos, I wouldn’t be inspired by her daily commitment to stay clean. Had I been offended by her potty mouth, we wouldn’t get shushed by our colleagues because our laughing is too loud.  Fortunately, she recognised the kindred in me and let me into her world.

Getting to know someone whose life has been different to mine and by showing up without the chameleon skin, has given me something profound.  

The point where human connection thrives.

Me with my chubby knees on display.
Shona on the right, with her knees out too.









Dressed as Santas to raise money for charity. 
Hanging out at work.









Fairy Tales and Failure

Nine years ago today was supposed to be my second chance. The start of my happily ever after. Instead of celebrating another year, I’ve sat with a lump of unacknowledged grief wedged in my chest and a work day that has reinforced feelings of not being enough.

My bridesmaid sends me a message. “Are you doing ok today?” She is the only one who was both there and isn’t afraid of my emotions. She knows that his secret addiction impacted my lifelong depression to a point where the only option was to abandon my fairytale.

The receptionist at work is celebrating her birthday. Someone brought her pink tulips, almost the exact shade my bridesmaid carried. I tell her how beautiful they are and how they are my favourite flower. I don’t say “still” or “despite everything” because my story is a tightly held secret that I’m sure has been fuel for speculation. No one ever asks what happened but you can see the question in the way their eyes slide away from my face if I mention him.

I can tell my bridesmaid the truth about how rough I’m finding the day. She holds the space for me to grieve openly.  

If I’m ready to.

Which I’m not.

The grief will be shelved again tomorrow, while I carry on with my new life. Next year, when I pull it out, it’ll be smaller and slightly easier to carry.  

Always Have a Good Story

“Street brawl.” I say when someone asks about the cast on my mother’s hand.

“I’m a silly old lady who fell, again. Don’t lie.”

“Perving at a man and tripped.”

“Stop it.” She’s blushing.

“Closer to the truth?”

Laughing with her, I hope this isn’t the beginning of the end.


It is thirty minutes into Mother’s Day. I have been in bed for a few hours escaping the sudden arrival of winter.

But I’m not waiting for Mother’s Day greetings. I am awake, reading and waiting to hear from the second of my two teenage children.

They are both out at parties.

The girl child, a whip-smart and feisty package who is a worldly sixteen years old, has gone to a birthday party with her boyfriend’s family. She has checked in the entire time, travelling by herself via train, towards this other family, an hour out of the city.

She is the walking embodiment of my heart.

She has checked in, again and again. An hour ago, the message I am waiting for.  She is at her boyfriend’s house for the night. Safe. Fear relaxes its grip from deathly to white knuckle. 

It is a risky thing to put what you value most out into the world alone.

The boy is 19 years old and we have been straddling the child/adult fence for a while. He chooses to live at home while at university mostly for money saving reasons. At half past midnight, he is still out.

His soul is connected to mine by an invisible but strong thread. Tonight, he pulls on that thread, letting me know in some realm, that he is not ok. I doze, hearing every sound, the way I did when he was small and suffering from a heavy, wheezing cold. I will not go into a deep sleep until he is home.

Eventually, the front door bells jangle and the dogs don’t even stir. They know it is him.

I wait for the sickening feeling in my stomach to ease.  It doesn’t. So I make my way downstairs. He is in his room, distressed noises coming from behind the door.

I knock and he says, in response, “Mom, help me.”  My heart doesn’t change rhythm, it was already beating too fast an hour ago.

His day has been the battleground of early adulthood.  Friendships, a potential love interest, and alcohol. He tells me he should be better than this.  He apologises again and again.  He rambles about kebabs being a cure for anxiety and about wanting to spend his scholarship money on a girl.  Several times I clean out the bucket he hunches over. I rub his back.

He reaches for my hand and squeezes it tight.

I tell him it’ll be alright.

His bleary eyes meet mine and he asks “How do you know?”

I don’t have a good answer. He has the only answer he needs because he sleeps.



Just for Now

Alex was as spindly as a weed, all knees and elbows. He was small for a nine-year-old and looked as though he hadn’t slept properly in months. There were rings under his eyes like someone had pushed their thumbs there, hard, bruising the thin skin. But his hair was neatly combed and when he put out his hand to shake, he spoke with a clear and confident voice.

“Pleased to meet you.”

Catherine and Philip showed him the bedroom they had prepared for him and he made sure he didn’t roll his eyes at the dinosaur-printed comforter or the bookshelf with pictures books. It was clear they expected a much younger child and he knew this meant a very temporary home. Alex could see they were soft, new to this game, and Catherine looked at Alex like her world was on his shoulders. Philip was more reserved and he took time to relax. After a while, he began to tell jokes that were so bad Alex couldn’t help but laugh. He also sneaked treats to Alex while they watched football or ice hockey on television.

But Alex didn’t unpack his meagre bag, even months later, preferring to rummage in the bottom of it for underwear or a clean shirt. When his things reappeared, freshly laundered, he simply put them back in the bag.

School was harder. Alex hated walking back to the house after school. All the other kids pushed and jostled each other as they, one by one, peeled off the main road towards their homes. Alex preferred the days when the others were distracted, and he could duck down a small gap between houses to the old, unused railway line which ran parallel to the road.

The train tracks were still straight as an arrow, but the grass had encroached in every available space. The trees on either side had grown thick and tall, and they bowed their tops towards each other, creating a tunnel of trees for the tracks to run through. Alex would climb his favourite tree to where the branches nestled him against the trunk. Sometimes, when the wind was blowing, he imagined he was on the high seas. Most often, though, he pretended he was an outlaw about to jump onto a passing train.

It was risky playing on the train tracks. He couldn’t have the bullies follow him to somewhere so secluded. Sometimes, like today, he had to walk the whole way home along the roads.

“Hey foster kid.” The boys from his class were walking in heavy steps a way behind him.

“Hey! I was talking to you.” A stone hit Alex on his shoulder and then another, bigger this time, hit the bare skin of the back of his arm. “Foster kid! Foster kid!” The rhythm of their footsteps gaining on him matched his heart rate. The boys surrounded him, shoving him back and forth. One pulled his backpack off and threw it into the road. One boy spat on his shoe. Another kicked the back of his leg and Alex fell, skinning his knees and hands on the concrete. The bullies disappeared as fast as they had appeared.

Alex collected his bag and, limping, decided to go to the train tracks even though Catherine would be waiting for him at the house. The stinging in his knees slowed him as he walked between the tracks, stepping from tie to tie. He usually liked to run these to see how fast he could go without missing one, pretending he was a superstar athlete. Sometimes he leaped them, two at a time, imagining he was a deer.

Today, he was just himself, blood oozing down his bony shins, someone else’s spit drying on his shoe. His nose ran furiously as he refused himself permission to cry. He wiped the slime off his lip with the edge of his t-shirt. His imagination emptied and all he was left with was the dream of having a proper family. He had stopped allowing this fantasy because it made his insides feel hollowed out. The bullies voices echoed in that cavernous space.

Foster kid means no one wants you.

Alex came through the front door, just as Catherine was about to phone the school to find out if he was still there. The blood on his legs was brown and dry and his palms raw. He didn’t flinch as Catherine cleaned the grazes, and he met her questions with silence. Only when he had swallowed a glass of water and had eaten an apple did he dare say anything.

He forced his voice to be cold and flat, his eyes empty. “How long do I gotta stay here?”

“You can choose to stay for as long as you want. We would like to find your mother to sign papers so we can adopt you. But it is up to you.”

He stood, lifting his chair so it wouldn’t scrape, put his apple core in the trash, his glass in the dishwasher, and went to the bedroom. He didn’t look up from The Very Hungry Caterpillar book when Catherine brought his laundry in. She pulled his bag out from behind the door ready to put his clothes into it.

“Can I try having things in the closet? You know, just for now.”


This story was written for the second round of the Yeah Write SuperChallenge #4. The picture above was one of the prompts as was “Adopting a child”

The Day the Earth Swallowed

Below is my submission for the Yeah Write Super Challenge #4, part 1.

Over 48 hours, I wrote a story of 1,000 words or fewer combining the following two prompts: armeggedon and paving a road.

I have been selected to move into the second round.

The Day the Earth Swallowed

Mabel was glad the end of the world worked out this way rather than an alien invasion or zombies or a meteor slamming into the earth with no warning. She wasn’t ready for the end but she had accepted it was here.

Ten years ago, her city fell to an earthquake which no one had predicted. Mabel had crouched pinned in the rubble, her arm broken in three places, and her heart thudding out the rhythm of life against her ribs. She had tried to phone Marcus, her love, to let him know she was alive while she waited for help. She knew she was a survivor but what she didn’t realise was how hard complete recovery is. Rebuilding both a city and its people is a long process. The aftershocks of the earthquake, a constant reminder of their fragility.

For Marcus, recovery appeared to be unattainable.

“Mabel, I have to leave. There is an opportunity further north.” His announcement was punctuated by a bad aftershock. Dust settled in his dark hair. “It’s never going to end. I have to go. Please, come with me.” She took him in her arms and held his fear, once again.

They moved north.

For two years, away from the interminable disaster, Marcus uncoiled and his manner became soft. Until the unthinkable happened. A similar earthquake hit their new city.

This time it struck in the middle of the night and with it, awoke all the terrors of the past. It took Marcus and shook him until he frothed. But nothing in their new city fell that night. It wasn’t the same disaster. Each day, however, saw a new building condemned, a new area closed and more people displaced. Marcus’s eyes became shuttered and he retreated into his own world. Mabel looked after him as this city crumbled, achingly slowly, around them.

They moved again. This time to the far north, to a piece of land with regenerating forest and a small house. The warm weather meant Mabel’s arm didn’t ache so. Marcus could sit in complete stillness, the ground not moving or rolling, for as long as he wanted. He watched everything but his silence was complete. Mabel still spoke to him as if she hadn’t noticed.

“The birds are nesting, again. We’ve been here a full seven years, Marcus. It goes fast, doesn’t it?” She paused. There was, of course, no response. “Well, I think so, anyway.” She touched the threads of grey she saw in her reflection. She wondered what the world was like as she took her morning walk through the forest.

The pathway wound up through the trees and ferns, heading towards the ridge line. The track was wide enough for them both to walk, side by side if Marcus ever agreed to come. Mabel knew every tree along the way and every inch of the path had been cut, dug and paved by her. Mabel, as millions before her have, put a human mark onto the natural world. Each paving stone held meaning to her. Some carved with family names. Some bore significant dates. Others, often the cracked or chipped pavers, represented a bad day for Marcus, like the one she laid the day he lashed out his fist and blackened her eye.

Some weeks ago, she put a small tent and some canned food, enough for them both, in a plastic cylinder and hung it in the tree closest to the top of the pathway. Disaster preparedness was never far from her thoughts. Most useful in this kit, was a small screw top bottle with dried, powdered mushroom. The bottle was wrapped in scrap of red fabric from the dress she wore in the first quake. The mushrooms were growing next to the paving stones which represented the quakes. Mabel knew their deadly quality in an instant.

The third big earthquake hit, this time, just before dawn.

The ground shunted sideways with no warning rumble. Flashes of green and blue light, sparked by the sheer energy from the tectonic plates moving, lit the area. This time, however, the earth didn’t stop its movement after a few minutes. Instead, it tore itself into pieces. Great cracks opened, the ocean rushed inland and hills broke apart. Mabel heard the house split, twist, and fall. The noise in this quiet place was the most shocking violation. The world was ending from its very core.

Marcus called, once, from the living room on the other side of the house. He was always awake first. The guttural sound tore at Mabel’s soul. She shouted “I’m coming, my love. Wait for me.” She found her survival clothing and spent a sickening amount of time getting to Marcus. His hand, reaching and unmoving, was the only part of him she could see. As the earth heaved itself beneath her, she placed her cheek against his palm. She would go up the hill alone.

The pathway was cracked and broken but Mabel’s feet found purchase and she worked her way up. Her years of labour ruined so fast. Fallen trees lay across the path. She smoothed her hands over their bark and thanked them for their friendship.

At the ridge line, she sat, the earth continuing to heave and thrash beneath her. The trees fell in thunderous response and the earth’s energy flashed across the valley. She opened the bottle of mushroom powder and smoothed the scrap of red fabric across her lap. Mabel tipped the powder into her mouth. She was ready. The earth was prepared to take her.

They swallowed at the same time.

You Can be Right or Happy

The selfishness of mundane life became the building blocks for walls between them. Their disappointment, the strongest cement.

“You should go on date nights.” The therapist told her.

“You could always leave.” She told him.

So, rather than do laundry, he put his dirty clothes in a bag and left.